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Frank Psaila | Sunday, 30 November 2008

Serving people first

We hear about it very often: people lodge a complaint at some Ministry or other only for their complaint to be treated with stifling bureaucracy, and even silence, occasionally for years. They then turn to a political party and MPs.
The Nationalist Party would like to tackle this problem, not six months before the next general election, but six months after the last one. It would like that this problem be treated earnestly within government itself.
Government ministries’ customer care units are recognising the worth of a system that integrates and synergizes their efforts in order to deal more effectively and consistently with individuals’ complaints and criticism. The aims of such a system are to better manage citizens’ grievances, to identify pockets of weakness and useless red tape, to recognise the general trends of complaints for better and more useful action and to institute a strong audit trail to aid follow up.
To start building a better system, ministry customer care units should provide a central unit within government where details of complaints are lodged, action taken and pending results. The Nationalist Party has always made it very clear that the regular requirements regarding data protection be scrupulously observed, particularly that each complainant be informed beforehand and consents in writing to the use of supplied data. It was the Nationalist Party in Government that introduced the very same Data Protection Act.
It has been the clear and stated intention of the Nationalist Party’s secretary-general that timely action be taken on citizens’ complaints and that full information be given to complainants about action taken on their grievances. It is no hidden secret that both Parties offer assistance to members or otherwise who knock at the party for assistance. Such action and information is not only what is fairly due, but can also gauge the intensity of citizens’ complaints and thwart bureaucracy from tiring and smothering genuine complainants. This is why an integrated system to follow up citizens’ grievances should ideally be set up within government structures.
Most predictably, the Labour Party and its fellow travellers spun the whole issue out of every proportion into a web of exaggeration and outright lies to make this system sound like some Orwellian bunker that will know anything and everything on each and every Maltese. Reading the spin, one would have thought that we will now know who has had their haemorroids removed and will use that information for political gain (!)
Other fellow travellers spun yet another thread – the ‘espionage’ system we are supposed to have and that identifies exactly how every elector votes in a country where the secret vote is, one therefore assumes, fiction. These fellow travellers obviously did not read, or very conveniently ignored, Labour’s electoral defeat report pages 56 and 57 where Labour explains what it has been doing for donkey’s years, namely, using data in the electoral roll and in telephone directories together with a system of street leaders, informers and a ‘local area network’ to gather and store information on electors in its database. The defeat report actually chastises Labour for not having enough street leaders and a suitably efficient ‘local area network’ to correct and update its data as befits an organized party ready to govern, which was the fantasy before March.
Labour’s defeat report reveals that Labour had its own informers at Air Malta who were passing information to the party regarding those seeking to avail themselves of Air Malta’s election flights scheme. The same applies to St Vincent de Paul Residence (SVPR). This has all been published by Labour itself in its website where a reply by Labour’s electoral office confirms the above.
Quite differently, the Nationalist Party is insisting on several principles in government dealing with citizens’ grievances. First of all: People first. It is simply not acceptable that people lodge grievances which are dealt with in fits and starts by government without full feedback and satisfaction to complainants. Secondly: Privacy. The data supplied by each individual who lodges a complaint will keep being fully protected as is already government practice in full observance of laws passed by Nationalist administrations. Such a system will bring consistency in dealing with complaints across ministries and across types of complainants.
Labour and its fellow travellers have spun and acted with utter disregard for the truth regarding this system. The Nationalist Party, on the other hand, is clear in purpose and resolute in action to put people first.

Frank Psaila is director of information for the Nationalist Party

 


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